While I share dreams of interstellar travel, I find positive invocation of European colonialism profoundly problematic. If posthumans see themselves as Columbus, Cortes, Pizarro, and John Smith when they set off for the stars, expect very bad things. Let’s decolonize our desires, folks.
I have had a number of disagreements with IEET commenters recently, for example:
“If we make it past the growing pains of a Type one civilization, it means that all of those worlds are ripe for colonization without any worry of conflicting with natives.” – Christian Corralejo
Is this the goal? The glory of exploration and expansion minus the practical and ethical problems of negotiating cultural differences and competing claims to resources? The native appears simply as an obstacle in this narrative. The problem with colonialism doesn’t come from the colonial mindset and drive for domination, but rather from the circumstances (native populations) that impede and trouble the colonial mission. Space then presents the possibility for the fulfillment of the American myth of virgin land and the conquest of nature, not men (to use nineteenth-century phrasing).
The iconic Cosmist goal of intelligence expanding outward from Earth at the speed of light (or faster) and converting all matter into self-aware computronium turns ominous when coupled with these colonialist resonances. Because futurism comes out of the European and Euro-American intellectual tradition, the culture of settler colonialism and its exaltation permeate futurist discourses. For the project of intelligence expansion to produce positive results, I recommend we look critically a the continuing legacies of colonialism and develop a novel imaginary framework.
But as fascinating as the specifics distant prospects like interplanetary exploration are, I’m most concerned about what effects colonialist nostalgia has here and now. While generating material abundance for some, the scientific-industrial model of runaway resource extraction enable by European colonialism has gotten the species into a lot of trouble over the last two centuries. The vision of indefinite expansion has the potential to sustain the present unsustainable system, detracting from the ongoing horrors of settler colonialism by coding the colonial mission as essentially noble if unfortunately implemented. There’s much to be said for focusing on this giant ball of iron and the humans here first and foremost.
“…it goes back IMO to what Fukuyama… writes: if we encourage a motley coalition of culturally conservative oppressed—and they are in fact v. oppressed—we go nowhere fast. You can communicate with them as you please, however for me to be honest with them it would be the proper thing to say to them their culture only interests me i.e. artistically/anthropologically/archaeologically—otherwise such contains little or nothing of a progressive nature. I feel quite strongly that we go nowhere by attempting to be all things to all progressives—assuming they are even progressive as we define progressive in the first place. To put in plain language, what do ‘Indians’ have to do with technoprogressivism or even progressivism as conventions define technoprogressivism? Besides, re Native Americans, it has gone way past colonialism… White nationalists are often oppressed poor as well; what would reaching out to them accomplish? they have told me they fear the effects of transhumanism on their families… we would have a similar difficulty with reaching out to other oppressed primitives. Wasted motion. College students, yes, and many others who are receptive; Native Americans?: I see it as simply a waste of time in proving we are caring (or smarmy) towards minorities…” – Intomorrow
Intomorrow’s expressed derision toward the oppressed in general and Native Americans in particular on the basis of technoprogressivism reinforces my abiding suspicion of the progress narrative. Ey suggests hopping on that spaceship to awesome and ignoring the “oppressed primitives” that are too “culturally conservative” get on board. I’m not even sure what ey means by progressive, but I assume it approximates IEET’s broad position about ethically employing powerful emerging technologies to improve or transcend the human condition. Intomorrow describes the impoverished and brutalized masses as too poor soil to grow the glorious future. Because of backwards cultural values that incline them to mistrust the technoprogressive agenda, these people have little or nothing to offer.
While idiosyncratic in its details, I would guess that this position resonates in the transhumanist community. Those in positions of privilege typically take pleasure in describing their others as behind the times if not downright uncivilized. Progressive white folks fixate on communities of color as homophobic and misogynist; owners and coordinators bemoan working-class racism. These tales serve to justify racial and class domination.
I argue that such claims about cultural deficiencies of the oppressed do no useful intellectual work. As an alternative conceptual framework, I recommend the intersectional approach to identity and power. Needless to say, we shouldn’t idealize the oppressed – even the super oppressed! – as sources of absolute truth or unmediated knowledge. Huge cultural barriers indeed hinder radical organizing. However, Francis Fukuyama’s elitism and its echoes contribute nothing to overcoming these challenges and crafting successful coalitions.
In this context, Intomorrow stands out for how ey unambiguously identifies indigenous people – “Indians” – as irrelevant. As an example the racism, notice how ey juxtaposes “college students” with “Native Americans.” While I’m tempted to stress the value of indigenous culture the project of sustainability and elaborate on the revolutionary credentials of Native peoples, doing so threatens to replay the hegemonic dynamic that centers settler desires. Native lands, communities, cultures, and religions have too long been taken as a resource for non-Natives.
Instead, I repeat and expand on my initial claim that contemporary technoscience relies on exploitation and environmental devastation. The record of uranium mining and nuclear weapons production here in New Mexico illustrate how this pans out. Furthermore, I add that technoscience in the Americas rests on the foundation of settler colonialism. Like the Middle Eastern oil that drives the United States economy, close to every acre comes drenched in blood. As Native lands continue to be targeted for resource extraction – especially of energy resources – this dynamic belongs to our own twentieth-first century as much as the nineteenth. Any attempt to make technoscience ethical must directly confront settler colonialism to have any hope of success. As the syndicalists say, an injury to one is an injury to all.
Intomorrow’s style of futurism scares me silly. The so-called unwashed masses – including poor white nationalists, as incomparable as they are to Natives – have legitimate reasons for rejecting assertions of cultural superiority from those with material power over them. Death to all domination everywhere, however rationalized. I dream of wide alliances based on egalitarian and anti-authoritarian principles mighty enough to overturn the status quo. I want this process to include transformative technoscience, but only under the rubric of freedom and equality. If mines shut down and iPhones don’t get built, so be it. If innovation can’t be done right - without victims - I’m willing to wait or go without. Here’s to revolution and relationships – not progress.
Image 1: The landing of Christopher Columbus
Image 2: The Cherokee “Trail of Tears”